Friday, March 18, 2011

Poetry Friday: About Suffering

I posted this poem back in February 2008, excited that I had just learned the word "ekphrastic." An ekphrastic poem is one that is about a work of art, as this one is. It refers to Breughel's painting "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus," which you can see above.

I chose to post this poem again this week because it so perfectly describes what this week has been like, teaching and doing my regular things while all the time grieving over the situation in Japan. Suffering always happens in the middle of everything else, papers to grade and kids to feed and "somewhere to get to." If only we could just stop everything and grieve, but then I kind of did that last year when I was evacuated from Haiti after our own earthquake, and that was really no fun either. I don't know the answer, but I know that it's hard to find the balance between living and suffering. The Old Masters knew that too.

Musée des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Here's today's roundup.


Andromeda Jazmon said...

I love this poem! It is so true; and makes the heartbreak even harder to understand. How can it be that we just go on thinking about breakfast? But we do, and it goes on...

Mary Lee said...

Life does go on, but that's no excuse not to turn one's head to look, and again to look back; turn one's heart to feel as best we can, and back again to keep remembering...